Fyxation Bicycle Company

Those of you that have strolled into the Fyxation bicycle shop in Riverwest, may not know the whole story behind the company that designs their own bicycles and parts.  The concept for the brand and their original product first came to light in 2009 when owners Nick and Jessica Ginster were living in Taiwan.  An idea popped into Nick Ginster’s head to design a bicycle tire for fixed gear bikes that had both sturdy tread and was available in multiple colors; a niche in the market.  He was originally contracted by a company to make the tire, but they backed out.  So, with the encouragement from his wife Jessica, they decided to invest in the brand and take the tire to market.  At the same time, Nick’s brother Ben Ginster came on the team to run the accounting and logistical side of the business.  With a perfectly balanced group of people driven to succeed, the company was born.

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Originally from Milwaukee, Nick and Jessica first met over 20 years ago while working together at a bike shop.  Nick worked as a mechanic and Jessica was the store manager.  They were brought together by their love for bicycling, health and spreading adventure.  Nick was always mechanically inclined and an avid biker since a child, and at the age of 13, he disassembled a snow blower engine to create a gas-powered bicycle.  His mom looked at his dad and said “engineer.”  The rest is history.  Jessica, however, has a background in health, science and community engagement.  She has a natural talent of adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and understanding the needs of Fyxation’s customers.

Before moving back to Milwaukee in 2009 to start Fyxation, the couple lived in Taiwan for five years because of Nick’s job that involved overseas production of bicycle products.  He later took that knowledge to start his own company (still in Taiwan), doing product design and product sourcing overseas for U.S. companies.   When Nick and Jessica came back to the United States, they first presented their fixed gear tire with Ben at the world’s largest bicycle trade show.  “Fyxation has always been a Milwaukee company and Milwaukee is our home,” says Nick.

The business took off when they found distributers to sell their product through bike shops around the U.S. and globally, but this did not happen by luck.  It was a “very tactical approach,” explains Jessica.  Their well laid-out plan combined with years of experience allowed the company to grow quickly.  Soon after their tire was on the market, other companies began making competitive tires so Fyxation started diversifying their products to include pedals, parts, accessories, frames, and then bikes.

“That has developed into the product line that you see today,” says Nick.  “We are quick to change when we need to.  But from the beginning of our brand, we always made quality affordable products and we still do that.”

The time came when they needed a local warehouse.  The natural choice was to use the Pedal Milwaukee building in the Silver City neighborhood. The building was formerly owned by Tom Schuler of Team Sports but Fyxation just bought the space.  Until that point, Fyxation only sold their products through other bike shops, but when people started knocking on the door of the warehouse looking for a Fyxation store, the team decided it was time to open a public storefront, so they could better connect with their Milwaukee customers. “We had never been very good at telling our story locally,” explains Nick, “and when we opened the store, we had a public front and decided to change that.”  So, in 2014, the company opened the store you now know in Riverwest.

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Fyxation has continued to grow over the years, both in their production and community outreach.  One of their first local projects was designing a custom bike for Colectivo and have since expanded that by designing custom bikes for Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee County Parks, Wisconsin Bike Fed, Goose Island, Nike and many other partners.  Nick’s favorite project they’ve done recently is their custom-designed bike for the Milwaukee people’s flag.  The bike was in such high demand that they decided to do a limited run of 40 bikes, which sold out in under a year. “We really believe in cycling and trying to help out in our communities as much as we can,” says Nick.  It’s impossible to list all of the ways Fyxation gives back in a short blog post, but to name a few, they host and support local organizations like DRAFT Milwaukee and Black Girls Do Bike.  Fyxation also donates to organizations outside of biking like Lymphoma & Cancer Society, Progressive Community Health Centers and Feeding America.

Everything they do as a company comes back to their core mission: to deliver adventure.  Fyxation wants to be a place where people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and experience levels feel comfortable to get on a bike and ask questions.  “One of the strongest suits that I bring is the fact that I am a female in a male-dominated industry and I’m also a woman of color,” states Jessica. “For me, it’s all about empowering the consumer, empowering the community.  Knowledge is power so let’s share the knowledge I’ve gained with people who are intimidated.”  Biking is for everyone, whether you’re the urban commuter, the mountain bike adventurer or the person that occasionally wants a little wind in your hair.  Stop by their shop so they can find the perfect bike to fit your style and help you discover your adventure.

Visit Fyxation’s website to get in touch or see their product line.

Finding Affinity: Sung

This month I want to do something a little different than my normal blog posts.  I recently spent five weeks in Vietnam and while in this drastically different culture, it made me think about how we relate to each other in Milwaukee.  Hear me out for a second.  At first, the country seemed so foreign that I could not relate at all, but after spending time there and getting to know the welcoming people, I started to realize that we have a lot in common.  Milwaukee sometimes struggles with this because as many of us know, it is a very segregated city.  This series called “Finding Affinity,” that I will occasionally post, is meant to help us find similarities in each other rather than differences.  If we can connect with one another, maybe we can make the world a more peaceful place.

 

Affinity:  /noun/

  1. a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.
  2. a similarity of characteristics suggesting a relationship, especially a resemblance in structure between animals, plants, or languages.

 

* * *

“All of us, we’re not so different.”  Those were Sung’s words as she led me through the narrow paths of the rice fields near Sapa in Vietnam.  Sung was our tour guide, who proudly showed my friend and I around her village in the far north of the country.  We followed her for three days up and down steep dirt roads beneath banana leaves and foggy skies.  The only item she carried was her small, vibrant bag draped over her shoulder, made using of the colors of her village. Adversely, we were weighed down with our large backpacks hugging our waists, with the newest back-support technology.  It was a simpler way of life that she shared with us, but not necessarily an easier one.

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Sung is 38 years old, no taller than four and a half feet, with five children and a husband.  The family lives with her husband’s parents because that is the tradition in her culture.  While Sung works the rice fields and leads tours to support the family (as most of the women do), her husband’s parents take care of the children and the home.  Having her children in school, Sung explains to us, is more important than anything because she wants to give them the opportunities she never had.  And isn’t that what all parents want?  Her daughter recently taught her how to spell her own name because Sung never learned to read or write.  Yet, her spoken English is nearly perfect, thanks to the tourists she has talked with every day for the last 6 years.

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My friend and I shared long conversations with her, revealing pieces of each other’s lives for about 10 hours a day, and we slowly came to realize how similar we are, regardless of the cultural differences.  We are all searching for happiness and finding a balance in our lives.  Often all of us must compromise our hobbies and desires for our obligations.  The moment this all became obvious was when we took a break from hiking to swim in a peaceful river at the base of a waterfall.  As I was sitting on a rock drying off, I noticed Sung was perched atop the adjacent boulder with her long hair let out, deep in thought looking over the valley.  It was her bold independent gaze that I recognized in myself; a woman determined to achieve her goals, no matter the cost.

We often get caught up in the conveniences and privileges in our lives, but we too easily forget that we all want the same things: peace, freedom and happiness.  Sung opened my eyes to her way of life and made me realize how lucky I am, but the truth is that we all have challenges and we all have to find a way to make the most of what we’ve been given.  On our last day together, we walked up a dirt road with the occasional motorbike zooming by, to sit above what seemed like endless rice fields stretching below us.  I tried to imagine what life would be like if I called this home.  After sitting quietly next to Sung for a few minutes, I looked at her, and she looked back and smiled.

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Urban Guesthouses and B&Bs: A New Way to Experience Milwaukee

I recently wrote an article for the Shepherd Express about Milwaukee’s guesthouses and B&Bs, highlighting the uniqueness of these businesses and why people would want to stay at this type of accommodation.  You can read the article here or see it on the Shepherd Express website.

The accommodation industry is shifting toward small cozy guesthouses and Milwaukee is picking up on the trend. When most of us imagine a bed and breakfast (B&B), we think of a remote cottage in the countryside, but Milwaukee has urban guesthouses and B&Bs that offer easy access to the city and a comfortable, welcoming place to rest your head at night. With the rise of the “sharing economy” through sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, people in the industry are realizing that travelers are looking for a “home away from home.”

Imagine for a moment that you are visiting a new city for a few days, and when you first arrive to your accommodation, you are greeted by a friendly face—the owner of the house. Rather than walking into a generic lobby, you enter what feels like home, with a personalized touch. You sit down in the common room with a warm cup of tea to have genuine conversation with the other guests, and suddenly this city doesn’t feel so strange.

As travelers, we are drawn to these small, unique businesses when looking for accommodations because we want a story. The structure and design of a guesthouse tells the story of its neighborhood, just as much as its owner does. By staying in a family-run guesthouse or B&B, you get the chance to meet the people who run it and see Milwaukee through their eyes. Not only will they reveal the hidden corners of Milwaukee, but they take the time to learn about you and your interests before suggesting the perfect outing. When traveling, the place where you stay should be as much a part of the experience as the rest of the city.

Milwaukee has six small, family-run guesthouses or B&Bs that are all notably unique. From Victorian-style bed and breakfasts to a guesthouse in the midst of flourishing gardens and a cozy gallery space, each place adds a unique accent to the urban neighborhoods of this city.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

 

The Brumder Mansion

www.milwaukeemansion.com

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The Brumder Mansion brings a different experience to the Concordia neighborhood. Built on Wisconsin Avenue in 1910 by George Brumder (1839-1910), the building has a theater in the basement and five bedrooms, most of which have a Jacuzzi and fireplace. Nine years ago, Tom and Julie Carr came from California, bought the Brumder Mansion and rebuilt the basement theater. Some guests come for romantic escapes in the bed and breakfast, while others come specifically for the theater.

“This isn’t a bed and breakfast; it’s a Hollywood set,” says Tom Carr. Stay a night during one of the performances, and you will be taken away into another world of fantasy and imaginary characters. The Brumder’s theater puts on four to five shows per year, made possible by production manager Amanda Hull, artistic director Tom Marks and Milwaukee Entertainment Group. Whether you are trying to solve a murder mystery or you are being swept up into the madness of the Hatter in Alice’s Wonderland, you won’t be bored. Don’t miss their upcoming shows including Dancing with Hamlet.

 

Kinn Guesthouse

www.kinnmke.com

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Originally from Chicago, Charles and Connie Bailey moved their family to Milwaukee in 2015 when they bought the Cream City brick building on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. After a year-and-a-half of restoring the building, the couple opened Kinn Guesthouse in March of 2017. The name Kinn comes from Charles’ father and grandfather who ran the Drake hotels in Chicago and passed the trade down to him. The eight-room guesthouse has a chic modern feel with large windows in every room, making the rooms seem twice their actual size. All but one of the rooms and the spacious common area are on the second floor of the building, above the restaurant, Kindred.

Before you get to your room, you will be stopped by the stunning kitchen and living room space that is free for all the guests to use. Along with the deep-cushioned couch, gallery wall and fully outfitted kitchen, the Baileys have a Nespresso machine, bottle of wine and popcorn waiting for their guests. “People care to live in a different way,” says Charles. “They want something that’s more cozy and comfortable and feels more like home than the big hotels.” If you stay at Kinn, you will most likely meet the charming couple and be treated to the Honey Pie pastries that they offer every weekend.

 

Manderley Bed & Breakfast

www.bedandbreakfastmilwaukee.com

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For the last 17 years, Marie and Andrew Parker have been running Manderley Bed and Breakfast, making it the oldest running B&B in Milwaukee. Originally from the Milwaukee area, the couple decided to open the bed and breakfast once they discovered the elaborate mansion on Wells Street in the Concordia neighborhood. “Even in its dilapidated condition, it had charm and appeal,” explains Andrew. After seven years of rebuilding the structure and designing the interior with hand-made stencils and hand-painted art, they finally opened their dream business. Because there were no other Milwaukee B&Bs at the time, the couple helped the city write the laws pertaining to bed and breakfasts, making Concordia the official Bed and Breakfast District of Milwaukee.

When you first walk up to the Manderley mansion, you will most likely be greeted by one of the friendly cats waiting for you on the porch. As you pass through the door into the house, you will be taken back in time to a Victorian era filled with old books, ornate wall décor and a warm fireplace. Andrew and Marie will make you feel right at home with friendly conversation over fresh breakfast from their backyard chicken coop and vegetable garden. There is no doubt these two are dedicated to their guests and to Milwaukee.

 

Muse Gallery Guesthouse

www.themuseguesthouse.com

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When you choose to stay at the Muse Gallery Guesthouse in the heart of Bay View, you may spend hours sitting and talking with Mary Ellen Hermann and Andrew Meechan—the owners of the place. The novelty of this guesthouse comes from the Milwaukee art hanging on its walls and the dedication the couple has for the local artists. All of the art changes quarterly, thanks to the curating of Renée “Luna” Bebeau. To see the work on display, stop in during one of their gallery events or during the Bay View Gallery Night.

As experienced travelers, Hermann and Meechan see the value in bed and breakfasts because of the well-traveled people they often meet in such places. “When you have breakfast with them, you learn so many things, particularly the next two dozen places you want to go visit,” explains Mary Ellen. The guesthouse is meant to be an experience and a welcoming place for travelers to relax and feel like they are part of the city.

 

Sanger House Gardens

www.sangerhousegardens.com

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While walking up the front stairs to the Sanger House Gardens through the lush greenery, you can look over the vast array of plants at the beautiful cityscape of Milwaukee. If you continue on the winding pathways through the arching branches and multitude of colors, you will reach the carriage house in the back of the garden. There is only one bedroom in this urban getaway, but it is a luxury space with two floors, kitchen, laundry machines and double doors that open to the gardens. Steve Bialk and Angela Duckert bought the Brewer’s Hill property in 1985 and have been enhancing the gardens ever since.

About five years ago, they decided to start a wedding and event business in the space. Along with formal events, the couple has also hosted neighborhood garden clubs and participated in Doors Open Milwaukee 2017. After getting repeated requests for a guesthouse, Bialk and Duckert finally renovated the carriage house and opened the guesthouse last April. There is no breakfast included with your stay, but when you arrive, you’ll get a personal tour of the gardens and personal suggestions for your Milwaukee stay. One of the best things about Sanger is that pets are allowed. It’s a place where you get the best of both worlds: close proximity to the city and a hideaway amidst blooming flowers.

 

Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast

www.schustermansion.com

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In that same Concordia neighborhood, you will find Schuster Mansion Bed and Breakfast, run by Rick and Laura Sue Mosier. They’re known for their Victorian-style high tea and exceptional hospitality. If you want coffee or tea delivered to your room in the morning, a choice of breakfast from their menu that has not changed in 10 years and freshly-ironed sheets every night, then the Schuster Mansion is the place for you. As you wander through the halls of the mansion, you get lost in the relics adorning the walls and the hand-made decorations throughout the house. The attention to detail is unreal, even down to the shower curtain rings covered in fabric so they don’t make a sound.

The moment you meet Rick and Laura Sue Mosier, you already feel like old friends. “It is so fun to meet people and learn about their lives and why they’re here. We’re part of people’s lives,” says Laura Sue. After talking with the couple for what could be hours, they will give you customized suggestions about the city based on your interests and their own secrets spots in Milwaukee.

Kinn Guesthouse

As you walk into the entrance way of the Kinn Guesthouse, you’ll find a beautiful open kitchen that faces a large couch, conveniently placed next to a cozy fireplace.  As you enter, you instantly feel as though you’ve walked into a close friend’s home.  Decorating the wall behind the couch is a broad collection of art displayed in a gallery style.  If you look close enough, you’ll find two black and white portraits of men hidden among the colorful bustle of art.  These men are the grandfather and father of Charles Bailey, the same men that ran The Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago and The Drake in Oakbrook, respectively.  Now that Charles has opened his own guesthouse with his wife Connie Bailey, they thought it fitting to name their business Kinn (adding the extra “n” because the building is on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View).

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Originally from Chicago, Charles was a floor trader for years.  But as the industry changed, he started looking at other career options.  “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of hotels because I’ve been around them my entire life. I never thought I’d be in the business but it always intrigued me,” says Charles.  The couple lived in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood until they decided it was time to move as their son, Quinn was getting older.  The family moved their life to Milwaukee and soon after that, found a beautiful brick building in Bay View for sale.

“The building presented itself and our dream started to take shape,” Connie explains. “The concept was all Charles, but we did work together to perfect the idea and execution.”  The couple put in a great deal of work to get the building to where it is now.  It started out as a masonic lodge then a series of bars and restaurants that didn’t take care of the space.  Connie and Charles gutted the entire thing and brought the building back to life, while keeping the original flooring (110-year-old maple) and exposing the cream city brick walls.

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Charles was always interested in the idea behind Airbnb and foresees the company changing the hotel industry.  “To me, the success of Airbnb means that people care to live in a different way.  They want something that feels more like home than the big hotels,” he says.  Charles found the perfect mix between that homey concept and the luxury feel of hotels: comfy but not too personal.  “Usually you just want to live like you do at home [when traveling],” says Charles. “I didn’t have to prove that concept, I just had to build it.”  The idea was to keep overhead low by making the building totally self-sufficient so that Charles and Connie could focus on enriching the rooms as much as possible.  When you book a room with Kinn Guesthouse, you receive a code for your room that becomes active the day you check in.  When you arrive, your room is ready, there’s community wine in the common room, and if you happen to be there on a Saturday morning, Charles is most likely there to greet you with fresh muffins from Honey Pie (the bakery next door).

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Kinn Guesthouse opened in March of this year but it is already very involved with theMilwaukee community.  On all the walls in the guesthouse, you will find artwork from local Milwaukee artists that Connie handpicked herself.  The exception is the gallery wall in the common room, which is part of Charles and Connie’s personal art collection.  Connie plans on swapping the artwork in the rooms to display more local artists. On the Kinn website, you can find links to these artists.  Kinn is also working with the restaurant Kindred, located on the first floor of the building.  “We are starting to create events that bring local vendors in for conceptual dining experiences,” explains Connie.

Kinn makes it easy for travelers to instantly connect with Milwaukee.  Guests can enjoy the luxurious day-lit rooms while feeling like they’re at home with access to a kitchen and a bottle of wine waiting for them on the counter.  And the best part is that Charles and Connie take the time to get to know their guests.  View their website and take a peek into the Kinn Guesthouse.

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds

We all have those moments when we see a cause that needs attention, and think “I should do something about this,” but few of us act on that thought.  That’s what makes Maria and Grant Groves stand out.  After a trip to Kenya, they started the non-profit organization Feeding Mouths Filling Minds in 2012.  When Maria was 20, she visited an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya on a service project that opened her eyes to challenges people face across the world.  The widespread poverty she saw stayed in the back of her mind until she finally went back to visit that same orphanage years later with her husband Grant.  This visit was different because the couple started talking about land use, how land use could improve food and water, and what the orphanage could do to optimize land use.  “That’s how the organization got started,” says Maria.

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FMFM focuses on sustainable food and water sources because if these basic needs are fulfilled, children are “able to turn their attention to filling their minds rather than worrying about filling their bellies,” as explained on the group’s website.  Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has partnered with other organizations to build water wells in Liberia, farm ponds in Kenya, sustainable farming in Sierra Leone and so much more.  With Maria’s unique skills in networking and business, the organization is able to acquire funding to implement these projects.  And with the help of their dedicated team, FMFM ensures that the projects continue to be successful by teaching local people in Africa how to carry out the programs.

Feeding Mouths Filling Minds has also started to focus on their local community in addition to their projects in Africa.  They have partnered with Youth Outreach Service in Chicago to build an urban garden for at-risk youth, that will provide local teenagers with healthy food and teach them how to manage their own garden.  FMFM is also in the process of launching a global students program that youth groups, teen centers and/or teachers could incorporate into their activities and lesson plans.  Under that program, kids would pick an African country to learn about and would complete academic components and required readings focusing on that country.  Then the children would choose one of the FMFM projects and would come up with their own ideas to help with funding.  The students would be connected with the children they are helping in Africa via email or mail.  They would “really own it and be empowered through that entire project,” explains Maria.

So when you think to yourself “I should do something about this,” follow FMFM’s model and take action.  The organization understands that children are our future, both in Africa and at home, and with their basic needs met, they can reach their full potential.  Learn more about the organization on their website at www.feedingmouthsfillingminds.com

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Jacob Bach & Good Land Guides

Meet Jacob Bach.  He’s one of the most outgoing, encouraging, eccentric and caring people I know.  One of his main goals in life is to always make the people around him laugh.  Just a few months ago in February 2017, Jacob incorporated Good Land Guides, “a Wisconsin-based tourism company that focuses on getting people out into the good land,” explains Jacob.   Not only does he take people on backpacking and rafting adventures in nature, but he also leads trips into cities or interesting places around Wisconsin in order to show people what Wisconsin really has to offer.  On top of that, he tries to schedule one volunteer day per month like the Devil’s Lake clean-up event last month that brought about 300 people to the state park to clean up trash and maintain the trails.

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So how did Bach get here?  Yes, he does spend most of his time outdoors, but no, that’s not necessarily his professional background.  He actually started as a dancer, actor and then a comedian.  Bach grew up in Milwaukee learning dance and acting, then started doing comedy through the ComedySportz High School League, which he now teaches. In 2010 he started The Improvised Musical, a theater company he ran with co-producer Mary Baird that was a traveling improvised musical which he calls “the gypsy company.”  The group would travel around the country headlining improv festivals in New York, performing at universities and other venues.  During the company’s five-year run, the company won best theater company in Milwaukee by the Shepard Express.

2017_04_01_DevilsLake_213_1EOnce the company ended in 2015, Jacob began to focus on his solo career.  He started a podcast called “Yeah, Bro!” which Jacob describes as “the show where straight guys talk about gay things.” Little did he know, he would gain thousands of listeners in the first year and get asked to do photo shoots for Milwaukee Magazine and Quest.  “I was getting a reputation for being me… I was notorious for being myself, like having a personality,” says Bach.  He has also been working at ComedySportz for 10 years, making a living from coaching comedy, performing, independent contracting and leading team building work shops for corporate companies.

His life was running smooth until his father had a massive heart attack in 2014 and Jacob was the first responder on the scene.  Luckily his father was fine, but the event changed both Jacob’s and his family’s perspective.  It “opened my family’s eyes to doing things” and not worrying about money, he mentions.  Skip ahead to 2016: Jacob made it his goal to see every state park in Wisconsin in one year.  “I finished up that tour and completely fell in love… I didn’t know how badly I wanted to share things with people.”

After completing his 2016 goal, Jacob took the NOLS Southwest Outdoor Educator course to become a trained outdoor guide.  Once he got back from that trip, he realized that he wanted to work in the outdoors and show people this “crazy awesome” state. That’s when the idea for Good Land Guides first popped into his head.

So as I sat on the couch with Jacob at the rock climbing gym listening to his story about his life, the creation of Good Land Guides made perfect sense to me.  But I had one final question: What do both comedy and guiding do for the community and why do you do them?

2017_04_01_DevilsLake_194_1EHis answer was so profound, that I am going to let him take it from here:

“I think that they are both honestly the same. It’s just an escape for people for a while. Both of them should be bringing you happiness in some way.  I do comedy because I need attention, but I also do comedy because I like to give people attention. Specifically, I do improv because it’s so interactive with people and it’s so collaborative.  I love commanding attention from people but it’s because I like to make sure that people are always laughing about something or at least having a decent conversation about something.  Guiding people is my way of sharing what I love with people. It’s a communal thing. You’re getting people out into places that you have chosen for them.  And you’re showing them why you love it and hopefully they are loving it in return.”